The NHL is contemplating a temporary realignment of teams for next season.
The league is mulling over a reduced schedule and hub cities also. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said realignment could help with travel restrictions for Canada and quarantines for visiting certain states in the United States.
“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense,” Bettman stated on Tuesday during a Paley International Council Summit panel with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Manfred said during its return to play MLB was focused on how, as an everyday sport, baseball would play through a positive COVID-19 test. When it had a flare-up, he spoke via phone with Bettman.
“I was talking to Gary from my den at home, and I remember us kind of reaching the conclusion, maybe it’s not about playing through it,” Manfred said. “Maybe what you’ve really got to worry about is making sure it doesn’t spread. That conversation led to us changing our approach a little bit. We had shutdowns and just accepted the fact that we were going to have to reschedule to get through. But those are the kind of conversations that I think make a real difference.”
“It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues. Obviously, we’re not going to move all seven Canadian franchises south of the 49th Parallel, and so we have to look at alternative ways to play,” Bettman said. “And while crossing the U.S.-Canadian border is an issue, we’re also seeing within the United States limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states. It’s again part of having to be flexible.” …
“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, and that may make sense, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans (or) fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue,” Bettman said The Commissioner said he would never ask players to return to a bubble for an entire season.
But he did say. “We’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need. It’s not going to be quite as effective as a bubble, but we think we can, if we go this route, minimize the risks to the extent practical and sensible. And so that’s one of the things that we’re talking about.”
The target date to start the 2021 season is January 1, with the hope of ending before May. Normally a season ends around the beginning of April so this would set the league back a few weeks.
Will there be fans in the stands?
“I’m just throwing it out there as a random thought: It’s conceivable that we start without fans, that we move to socially distant fans at some point and by some point in time, maybe, our buildings are open,” Bettman said. “I’m not saying that’s the case, but if you’re thinking through all of the conceivable possibilities — there’s full, there’s empty, there’s a combination — and again, how we start doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how we have to finish.”
It’s going to take a near miracle to make the 2021 season work, but the NHL pulled off an outstanding Stanley Cup tournament last season against all odds.